The first Ford Fascista came off the Mountain Pine, Arkansas assembly line on November 29, 2026, five days ahead of schedule and twenty years to the day after Mountain Pine effectively died when Weyerhaeuser shut down its plywood and veneer facility in the town. By day’s end, six hundred more Fascistas followed.
Loud and long celebrations took place, as one might have expected from a town essentially reborn through a new manufacturing plant. Champagne corks popped at 9:35 a.m., a little early to drink but not too early to start the festivities. By 4:00 p.m., the only sober person in town was the police chief, Shalafondra Gomez, and that was only because she had arrived at the Hot Springs International Airport on a flight from Reykajavik, Iceland only two hours earlier. She had attended the annual conference of the International Association of Policing in Small, Strange Communities.
In spite of his inebriation, Gunther Toland, the Plant Manager of the Mountain Pine Ford Plant, took the lectern in the main ballroom of the newly-completed Ford Mountain Convention Center.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this day marks a new growth time for your community, you know? I mean, you guys were flat out on your bellies before Ford decided to come here and we’re glad we did because we are witnesses to the rebirth of a new form of dedicated, mental initiatives that reside in the people of this great community!”
Inasmuch as the members of the audience were just as drunk as Toland, they erupted into raucous applause and cheers, fueling Toland’s incoherent speechifying.
“The Ford Fascista is a new breed of automobile, not a half-breed like the Chevrolet Slut…I mean Chevrolet Despot!”
Toland smirked and laughed aloud at his clever slip of tongue.
“Ours is the first car for the general public that does not require a driver at all! It is the first mode of personal transportation that takes full control of getting you from point A to your endpoint. I mean, all you have to do is say “take me to the Copper Penny in Hot Springs” and the Ford Fascista will take you there! No other input from you is required! And when you’ve spent every nickel you had on burgers and beer, you just say, ‘take me home’ and it will. It will be like your own personal designated driver, but without the holier-than-thou attitude!”
Shalafondra Gomez listened to Toland’s words with a mixture of embarrassment for her town and fear that it was about to be overtaken by driverless cars taking commands from drunks.
“In celebration of this momentous occasion, Ford has generously donated thirty Fascistas to a select group of Mountain Piners, including your esteemed Mayor, Gludge Mokrey!”
Gludge Mokrey won the election for mayor of Mountain Pine just a few months earlier. Though he ran unopposed, he won by a narrow margin, with write-ins constituting almost fifty percent of the vote. People didn’t dislike Gludge, they just didn’t respect him. But when—on the deadline date for filing for the ballot, no one had filed to run—Gludge filed his paperwork, apathy had turned to anger.
Unlike the thunderous applause that met his earlier words, his reference to the Mayor elicited mostly silence, punctuated with a few hisses and one loud shout of “Don’t make a Mokrey of Mountain Pine!”
“Hah! Doan chew worry, I’m not giving up a perflectly good micaphone to him,” Toland slurred.
Gludge Mokrey was the first to call Shalafondra Gomez at home with a complaint about the new Ford Fascista.
The phone startled Gomez in the midst of a dream. “Hello? This is Chief Gomez.” The clock read four o’clock.
“Shally, this is Gludge. This damn car is messed up! I need you to come arrest it!”
“I said the car is messed up! It’s been ignoring me when I tell it where to take me. It takes me someplace else. A while ago I told it to take me home. It locked the doors and took me to Sinners’ Sobriety Clinic, instead. And now it says it won’t unlock the doors until I agree to go inside and get treatment.”
The chief cleared her throat. “The car is talking to you?”
“Yes! And it’s saying it won’t have any further conversation with me until I blow less than point zero eight on the breathalyzer!”
The chief could hear what sounded like a woman’s voice in the background. “No, I said you were not competent to tell me where to take you after blowing more than point zero eight.”
By the time Gomez reached Sinners’ Sobriety Clinic, Gludge had passed out in the front seat. Gomez pulled her Police Bypass device from its holster, pushed it into the Fascista’s operator override receptacle, and opened the door.
“Wake up, Gludge, let me take you home. We’ll get this straightened out after you’ve had a few hours sleep.”
She guided him to her cruiser, opened the back door, and let him slide into the back seat, where he slept until she dropped him at his house.
Shally Gomez got another call at home a little later, just before seven-thirty. This one was from one of her officers.
“Chief, this is Cleatus Pryor. I’m sorry to bother you so early, but we’re getting flooded with calls from people who are saying their cars have kidnapped them.”
“What do you mean, ‘kidnapped them?’”
“Well, Shady Fulcrum said he told his car to take him to McDonald’s for breakfast and, instead, it took him to 24 Hour Fitness and said it wouldn’t open the doors until he agreed to a thirty minute workout. He said the car told him he needed a workout a lot more than he needed breakfast.”
Shally pictured “Shorty” Shady Fulcrum, a man no more than five feet tall, stuffed into a Ford Fascista, filling every available inch of space in the car with his four hundred pound frame.
“And Barney Clump just called” Pryor continued. “He said he’s being held out in front of CHI St. Vincent in Hot Springs. He said he told his car to take him to work and it took him there instead because it said its sensors detected dangerously low blood pressure. “
“Well,” Shally responded, “maybe you better get somebody over to see about Barney. He always looks to me like he’s about to pass out from exhaustion.”
“Okay. Chief, Clarence Devlin is on the line right now. He says he’s at Tender Moments Motel and his car won’t let him out until he agrees to marriage counseling. Let me patch you in to listen to his call.”
After a couple of clicks, Gomez heard Devlin’s panicky voice. “Look, open the goddamn door and let me out, you hear me!”
From the background came, “I took you to this place with the understanding the woman in the car with you was your wife. When you returned to the car without her, then called your wife to tell her you were still in Tucson, my Ford Morality Unit was activated; I am programmed to refuse to act in support of infidelity.” It was the voice the chief heard in the call from Gludge.
Before the officer switched off the patched call, Gomez heard Devlin again. “My stinking CAR is giving me a lesson in morality?! Open the goddamn door!”
Shally’s lips curled slightly as she remembered the evening Devlin revealed he hadn’t filed for divorce from Linda, after all. He had looked her squarely in the eyes and said, “Shally, don’t even think about telling Linda about us. Remember, I may be cheating on my wife, but you’ve been sleeping with your best friend’s husband. Linda wouldn’t react well to that.”
Chief Gomez hung up and hurried to her cruiser. As she drove toward the Ford plant, she spoke aloud: “Okay, Google, call Gunther Toland’s cell.” The phone obliged.
“Hello, Sheriff. What can I do for you?”
“It’s Chief, not Sheriff, Mr. Toland. I need to meet with you right away. We’re having some problems with a number of the new Fascistas. I’m on my way now; can you meet me at the gate?”
“Really? What kind of problems? “
“Let me explain them in person; it’ll be easier.”
“Okay, I’ll have the gates open when you arrive; just park in VIP parking by my office. I hope it’s nothing serious.”
“That remains to be seen. I’ll be there in two minutes.”
The huge steel entry gates to the executive entrance of the Mountain Pine Ford Plant swung open slowly. Gomez steered her Honda Incursion Police Interceptor to the VIP parking area; Toland stepped outside just as she shut off the engine.
“Chief, if you’ll give us your car’s power fob, I’ve asked our auto concierge to detail your car while we talk. It’s just our way of saying thank you to the community. Come on in my office.” A man in a bright blue Ford uniform appeared out of nowhere, took the power fob, and left with the Chief’s car.
Toland guided Gomez to his office, a palatial suite of rooms with huge plate glass windows overlooking the north end of the manufacturing floor.
“I wish you’d let me replace that Honda with a Ford Hooligan Police Interceptor, Chief. As a gift from Ford, of course. Now, what’s the problem?”
“My officers have been inundated with calls from people whose Fascistas are not accepting their directions. The cars are taking people other places, instead of where the people want to go. There’s obviously something seriously wrong with the software. But, based on what the cars are saying, it sounds like it’s not really a mistake; it’s more like it was intentionally programmed into the cars.”
Toland’s expression did not change. “Such as?”
“Well, one guy wanted to go get breakfast, but his car took him to a fitness center, instead, and said he needed to lose weight.”
“Actually, I don’t think that’s exactly what the car said,” Toland interjected. “It was probably more along the lines of telling him he needed to exercise more than he needed to eat.”
Chief Gomez stared at Toland for a moment. “Are you saying you know about these issues? Are you suggesting they were intentional?”
“Chief, Ford’s decision to build the Mountain Pine plant involved a bit of quid pro quo. Don’t you wonder how a backwater Arkansas town got selected for a major new Ford Plant? Your governor, Mimi Huckabee, arranged for a huge incentive for Ford to build the plant here. In return, Ford agreed to her demand for what amounts to a morals clause in our agreement, which calls for our self-driving cars to zealously support what Governor Huckabee called ‘a healthy, fulfilling, and spiritual lifestyle.’ And that’s what our cars do. I have to admit her zealotry against alcohol rubbed the powers-that-be the wrong way, but they adapted. They weren’t willing to have our cars refuse alcohol-related travel entirely, but we relented on preventing drunken travel, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a good thing. And on Sundays, you’ll find our cars unwilling to travel to anyplace but church. Believe me, with these cars on the road, your citizens will be safer and there will be less crime, I guarantee it.”
The expression on her face said Chief Gomez did not know quite how to respond. She sat silently for a moment.
“This is a bit much to comprehend. From where I sit, it sounds like Ford and the governor have decided they know what’s best for people, regardless of what people think is best for them. I can’t stand idly by and watch this happen. I’m going to take this to the media.”
As she stood to leave, Toland said, “You’re free to decide for yourself what to do about the situation. I’ll have the concierge bring your car around.”
The car had been washed and polished. Even the license plates and wheels gleamed. The tires shone like wet black marbles.
The entry gates swung open and Chief Gomez guided the Honda out onto the driveway leading to the highway. “Okay, Google, call KARK TV in Little Rock.”
The locks on the doors snapped down. A voice she’d heard twice before came over the car’s speakers.
“Your car has been equipped with a communication module override, the same exciting new technology found in the Ford Fascista. I am your new communications assistant. The call you wish to make will be delayed until Mr.Toland has had the opportunity to brief Linda Devlin on her husband’s experience with his Fascista and on your experiences with her husband. Unless, of course, you’d rather turn the car around and accept Mr. Toland’s offer of a Ford Hooligan Police Interceptor, which will include me. I am Miss Crazy.”
Shally got used to driving the Ford Hooligan Interceptor and she even got used to Miss Crazy, though she never let her best friend, Linda, get in the car.
This is the second draft of a short story inspired by a prompt given to me by a fellow member of the local writers’ club. It needs work; but I’ve given up for the moment.